Post Town Hall Analysis
January 19th, 2017 @ 8:29 pm


AASU Merger Town Hall

I went to the town hall as I said I would. I mad a lot of observations and about 6 pages of notes from this meeting.

All of the local news stations made it to the meeting. I saw WTOC and WTGS’s cars before I got in. I saw a camerman from WSAV in the auditorium. I drove past WJCL’s car as I was leaving the campus.

Pre-Meeting:

At 4:00 the crowd was sparse, but but 4:30, it was a packed house. The Pirate teams sat together and made the biggest noise. They wore their team shirts.

My Calculus professor was 2 rows behind me. I heard him crack a joke. about the irony of the meeting being late because the panel got stuck in traffic. The meeting started on time, but I got what he said.

For a brief moment, a girl was sitting behind me with a maroon shirt that said TREASURE SAVANNAH in gold writing.  I remarked about the irony of the shirt.  Basically, that’s why she wore it.

Meeting:

The panel for the meeting were:

  • Shelley C. Nickel, Executive Vice Chancellor for Strategy and Fiscal Affairs, Board of Regents
  • John M. Fuchko, III, Vice Chancellor for Organizational Effectiveness, Board of Regents
  • Dr. Linda M. Bleicken, Armstrong State University President
  • Dr. Jaimie Hebert, Georgia Southern University President

They have the AASU stream on You Tube, so you can watch it all in its glory:

My remarks aren’t going be in order of the meeting.  I’m just trying to keep the thoughts all together.

Bleicken is well loved by the school.  Personally, I’m not a fan of hers.  I can’t pinpoint it. It’s a gut feeling. In her opening remarks, she states this is a scary time.  She asks the crowd to be welcoming.

For the start of the Q&A, Nickel was asked about when this merger began.  She didn’t have an answer as to when THIS merger was decided.  Her answer was the entire BOR process started in 2010. She gave a standard spiel about the history of mergers, but when it came to when this specific one started, she didn’t answer it. That irritated me.  I don’t care about your history of merging 8 other schools into 4.  I wanted the history of THIS one.

There was the question about this being a consolidation or acquisition. Fuchko remarked it’s a consolidation and he has a specific meaning for that word.  What that is, I don’t know. Nickel remarked it’s a 18 month process and the U.S. Department of Education and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will be involved.

There will be a Consolidating Committee developed that will have to listen to BOR.  It will consist of 20 members from Armstrong and 20 members from Georgia Southern.  There will also be a board member from Savannah State to keep SSU’s interest respected and accepted during this process.

For the name Armstrong and its legacy, Bleicken gives a brief history of the school’s start.  Mentions how Don Waters, the local member of was vocal about BOR keeping the legacy alive. Then, she deferred to Hebert.  Hebert supports keeping the name, in some ways, wants Southern to be like Armstrong. He doesn’t want to close the campus.  He likes the way Armstrong has its Liberty Center campus and what it goes for the military.

Later, there was a question about the impact on the GI bill.  Bleicken answered, but it was so convoluted, she never answered the question at all! It was one of those non-answer answers.  Hebert and Fuchko did answer the question that they will do their best and  all they can to promote and keep the relationship Armstrong has with the military community and Fuchko essentially implied he would be personally invested in this part of the merger consolidation.

No answers on programs moving and causing commutes. Hebert says this should bring comfort to the students.  They replied with a big fat NO.  But, the won’t know where departments will be until they get further into the merger. There was a question about transportation, but Hebert said their goal is not to have shuttling.  They are want to bring engineering into Savannah.

If a student has an out-of-state waiver for in-state rates, the merged school will honor them. For monies from the Armstrong Foundation, Fuchko said since the donors wanted the money to be invested into Armstrong, they have a fiduciary duty to keep the money at Armstrong.  Most like this means the money will stay at this campus.

Bleicken said if there were any cuts to faculty and staff, it will be on the upper levels of management. Herbet came across as not wanting to lose staff and faculty at the Armstrong Campuses.  He wants the standards are Armstrong to remain, but acknowledges that the committee will need to determine the new standards.

In terms of fees, there was discussion about how the Hinesville Only students don’t pay some of the fees that Savannah students pay since they do not use those facilities and programs.  They are going to try to look into it seeing if it works that Savannah Only students do not have to pay Statesboro fees.  That’s been one of the biggest concerns for Savannah students in that they don’t want to pay for Statesboro’s campus and not get to indulge in the facilities and programs.

Both school have master plans to rebuild and refresh their campuses.  Most likely, they will take both those plans and consolidate them into one using the best course of action for both campuses.

All credits will transfer between the current schools and the new school.  Alumni degrees, like mine, will forever be Armstrong.  There will be no change there.

GSU and ASU families both asked about student life and Greek life.  Herbert has no clue as to what it going on, but understanding that these 2 school’s don’t know each other and have different walks of life, they need to get the student governments together and find out what can be consolidated as one unit and what can be broken into 2 units.  Herbert said he can see the emotions in the crows, understands out emotions, but said he owned the response into how Armstrong’s community is impacted in this all.

Athletics seems to get the biggest response. Whenever talking about them, the student-athletes were loud.  Blecken said they would honor all scholarships.  Herbert effectively said that it’s wait and see just like the Greek life. When discussion Greek life, from what I overheard, the Girls’ Basketball Team walked out. They had enough.  Students were yelling about what happens to the coaching staff.

Post-Meeting:

As people were leaving the meeting, many people had the same thoughts I did.  Half the meeting seems to be a meeting of platitudes and non-answers.  For answers, it was mainly “I don’t know.”

My View:

Basically, the take away from the meeting was they are basically clueless as to what’s going to happen. Which I find hard to swallow since they had to have had a clue about some parts of consolidation to even get this far.

Let me just say this: if I had been a professor, the questions given to the panel was their homework, they would have failed. They couldn’t answer most of the questions without some form of the phrase “I don’t know.” Not very reassuring to the students, faculty, and staff losing Armstrong.

I am still not happy about this merger at the moment. I think what angers me the most is that was so hidden from the public and the staff and faculty.  Many of them didn’t know until it was announced. It just comes across as if the Armstrong community’s input BEFORE the vote was not important.  It was a slap to the community’s face.

To be honest, Nickel, when giving answers, she gave the most vague answers of the night. The crowd did not respect her.  And Bleicken?  She just came across with pageant queen answers.  Half the time, my mind is thinking “I’d have to say April 25th. Because it’s not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket” as she talked. I really wished these women had not spoken at all. There was nothing from them that seems to satisfy the crowd. Their answers lacked substance.

However, Fuchko and Herbert were promising.  Fuchko said that two of his alma maters, which are the surviving Kennesaw State University and Georgia State University, have been through this.  Herbert talked about what can they take from Armstrong and apply to Southern. They may not have had the answers, but they were engaging with the crowd and taking in the thoughts and concerns the questions were about. I only hope that it wasn’t just platitudes, but real feelings that will keep Armstrong live post merger.

Armstrong State · Politics & Current Events · Savannah

1 Comment

  1. Shawn said,

    January 19, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    Watching the webcast on YouTube. The sounds is horrible!

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